Losing History, and Gaining Perspective

As I sort through all my accumulated game debris to prepare for our upcoming move, I keep finding old design documents, cinematics scripts, flow charts, .ini files, screen shots, and even a softball team tee shirt from games I’ve worked on. Video games suffer a uniquely short memory when it comes to entertainment media, and I realized as I looked at the case for Stitch: Experiment 626 that there are credits… but no record of what we actually did, and someday soon, no way for anyone to even play the game. All of that information and knowledge is simply gone, unless someone who was there writes it down.

That’s even more true for canceled games. They die on the vine, and if they were never announced, any information about them at the time is lost in confidentiality agreements and potential lawsuits. By the time the confidentiality agreements are so old that no one would care if you talked about the game, everyone involved has moved on and doesn’t really think about it anymore.

It was a rough day today, and it made me think about endings and beginnings.

This is one beginning, then: the start of a series of posts over the next week to create postmortems about the games I’ve worked on… even the canceled ones. If you’re looking for developer or publisher dirt, you won’t find it here. I’m not interested in politics. I’m interested in talking about great work done by passionate people, even if that work never saw the light of day. I may post a few details that could be considered confidential (like the key mechanics of a canceled game that was never announced to the press), but only if the game (and often the company) is so long dead that it doesn’t matter anymore. If any copyright holder sees something you want me to remove because it’s confidential, please email me and I’ll take it down. I hope that doesn’t happen, though, The people who did this work deserve recognition, even if it’s just in the form of a few screen shots and my scattered memories.

There are other people out there doing great work to preserve game development history (and certainly in a much more broad way than what I’ll do here). John Romero has been working on The Romero Archives, which approaches game development history from the people rather than the tech angle. You can follow @romeroarchives to get more information as his work continues. The Game Preservation SIG at the IGDA website has some general information, although it looks like many of the initiatives are on hold. The Game Preservation/Projects page, in particular, is a good starter summary of various initiatives. If there other key preservation initiatives I should mention here, let me know (comments or via Twitter) and I’ll add them to the post.

I’ll start tomorrow with the first game I ever worked on, Shadows.

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